The Intersections of Mental Health and Identity panel discussed a range of topics regarding the education system's approach to dealing with mental health recognition and support.

Commission on Disability Access and Design (CDAD) sponsored the event, which was held Thursday at the Student Academic Success Auditorium. This event is part of the ongoing Mental Health Symposium Series at NAU.

The panel included: Leila Monaghan, a senior lecturer with the Department of Anthropology; Jamie Axelrod, director of Disability Resources and contact co-chair with CDAD; Darold Joseph, assistant professor at the Department of Educational Specialties; and Christopher Margeson, a psychologist with NAU’s Counseling Services. Chris Lanterman, assistant professor with the Department of Educational Specialties, hosted the panel.

Monaghan discussed one of her student’s struggles with ADHD and the complexities in dealing with her mental health.

She said her student is dealing with the combination of attending school full time, being a mother of four and grieving the recent loss of multiple family members, all while trying to maintain her mental health issues and identity as a Navajo woman.

“I think that will give you an idea of how somebody faces mental health issues and a really complicated life at the same time,” Monaghan said. “I think we should never separate out mental health as something separate. That is always going with other issues. It is always going with other identities.”

Axelrod said it is important for the cultural design within a campus community to promote the well-being of its students, teachers and employees. Engagement and interaction are important for the acknowledgment of mental health as a disability, and 25% of students using Disability Resources are there in response to a mental health condition, Axelrod added.

“I often find it interesting that many people will approach us at the Disability Resources office or the commission with the limited understanding that mental health conditions might qualify as a disability,” Axelrod said. “People are often surprised to find out that includes mental health conditions that could rise to the level of a disability.”

The underlying message from the panel was the importance of separation between the individual and a disability.

In addition, Joseph said his work with Native American youth on the Hopi reservation is helping to address the overlap of their culture and language with education integration. Their indigenous identity intersects with discerning a mental health disability, and that it is viewed differently on the reservation.

“When we approach things from a very limited point of view or worldview, there are things that we've missed,” Joseph said. “How do we address that so that we're deconstructing those frameworks and reconstructing this in a new way so that we’re being more inclusive, more aware?”

Working alongside Joseph, Margeson said the stigma attached to mental illness can affect an identity, specifically for Native American youth.

“What does that look like in your life, your culture, within your family context,” Margeson said. “And also that your identity with this disability does not encapsulate who you are.”

Disability Heritage Month is an annual recognition of the accomplishments and contributions of those with disabilities, as well as the acknowledgment of challenges and discrimination they have overcome. It is also about empowering these individuals and engaging the community in events throughout October.